The ‘Palau Pledge,’ a Small Nation’s Bold Environmental Effort, Just Won a Top Global Ad Honor

Advertising's D&AD Awards give it a coveted Black Pencil

Headshot of David Griner

Tourism is the lifeblood of countless communities and nations around the world, but it can also be a seemingly unstoppable destructive force.

In the stunningly beautiful Micronesian nation of Palau, tourists have been responsible for a wide range of environmental problems, from polluting and damaging its famous coral reefs to poaching its tropical wildlife. It was a daunting problem distilled into one question: Can you continue to welcome tourists while simultaneously protecting your nation from them?

The answer, created in partnership with Australian agency Host/Havas, was the “Palau Pledge,” which requires all the island nation’s visitors to sign—right in their passports—an agreement not to damage or exploit the natural resources.

The effort has received global acclaim from celebrities and activists, and now it’s won one of the most coveted awards in advertising: the D&AD Awards’ Black Pencil.

Announced as a winner this evening at D&AD’s awards show in London, the “Palau Pledge” took home an impressive eight “pencils,” including the Black Pencil in Campaign Branding & Identity, one Yellow Pencil (gold) in Brand Expression in Print, three Graphite Pencils (silver) and three Wood Pencils (bronze).

Two other campaigns won Black Pencils from D&AD this year: “It’s a Tide Ad” from Saatchi & Saatchi New York and Fearless Girl from McCann New York. You can read more about those campaigns here.

The Palau Pledge was a sprawling effort with a wide range of moving parts, from the political process of permanently changing immigration policy to creating the marketing and promotional elements, such as posters and the informational website. To ensure the project wasn’t simply a toothless PR initiative, the nation also beefed up its enforcement and reporting of destructive behavior.

The film below, created by Host/Havas, was shown on every flight into Palau to help prepare tourists for the pledge:

Both written by and addressed to the children of Palau, the pledge is poetic and powerful in its simplicity:

Children of Palau,
I take this Pledge,
To preserve and protect your beautiful and unique island home.
I vow to tread lightly, act kindly, and explore mindfully.
I shall not take what is not given.
I shall not harm what does not harm me.
The only footprints I shall leave are those that will wash away.

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."